There is quite a lot to the world of tea. It’s one of those areas where, until you really dig in and explore it, you can kind of feel like black tea is black tea, green tea is green tea, and that’s about all there is to it. However, the breadth and diversity even between, for instance, a Japanese and Chinese green tea, can be astounding, not to mention all the variations between different categories of tea, and the individual characteristics of each plucking and production batch.
One very specific type of tea is a primarily ceremonial tea used in Japan, called matcha. The production of this tea is special in and of itself. It is a green tea, but some time before the harvest of the tea leaves, the tea plants are covered. Removing them from direct sunlight stops growth and forces chlorophyll into the leaves, producing a dark green color. The best leaves are then picked, laid out flat, dried, de-veined and de-stemmed. They are then very slowly ground (so as to prevent heating the tea leaves at all) into a fine powder.
The preparation of the tea involves at least three things: a tea bowl, a bamboo scoop, and a bamboo whisk. Firstly, the tea is sifted through a sieve to break up any clumps that may have formed. A small amount of hot water is poured into the tea bowl to warm the bowl, and the whisk is lightly swished around in it to warm and soften the whisk. The tea bowl is dried out, and the dry tea is scooped into the bowl. Hot water (slightly below boiling) is poured over the tea. The whisk is then used first to gently mix the water and the tea together, and then to vigorously whisk the tea until foamy. The tea is then drunk from the bowl.
This differs from most tea, in that you are not just drinking an infusion from the tea leaves, but you are actually ingesting the entire leaf (ground into a fine powder), which you are whisking into a suspension in the hot water. Because of this, matcha has quite a strong flavor, and also a high caffeine content. It also has higher content of the nutrients of tea, such as anti-oxidants.
Matcha is delicious, is very cozy to prepare and drink, smells wonderful, and the beautiful bright green color, along with a beautiful, hand-made tea bowl is visually pleasing, and feels wonderful to hold in your hands. It really is a very immersive way to enjoy tea.